By Janet Ekstract
ISTANBUL- In concluding her three-day visit to Turkey on June 4, that also included a visit to the border of Hatay – U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield labeled her meetings “very productive” with presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. She said the Syrian cross-border issue was the primary point of discussion in both meetings as well as “shared points of view, and shared values.” The ambassador said she looks forward to a continued collaboration between Turkey and the U.S. on these and other issues of mutual importance. On Friday, the ambassador announced that the U.S. through the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID is providing nearly $240 million in humanitarian funding for the people of Syria and the communities that host them in Turkey. She said the U.S. provided over $13 billion in humanitarian support to the Syrian people over the past decade.
The ambassador reiterated that Syrians right now are “the worst off they have ever been” and added that over 13 million are displaced with another 13 million “in desperate need of aid.” The ambassador has requested the UN Security Council extend authorization for the delivery of cross-border humanitarian assistance. Meanwhile, she said the pandemic exacerbated the humanitarian situation in Syria especially in Idlib and. Bab al-Hawa. Right now, Bab al-Hawa is the only remaining access point for humanitarian aid to enter Syria. It’s crucial for the border crossings to remain open, she said, and commented on the “extraordinary work” being done at Bab al-Hawa which Thomas-Greenfield said represents “the best of the international community.” She also said that the U. S. wants the United Nations to be able to bring food into Syria for starving children and bring protection to families who lost their homes. Thomas-Greenfield added the UN should also be able to deliver vaccines during the pandemic. She said: “We want the suffering to stop.” She emphasized that in the event border crossings remain closed, it will cause unnecessary “cruelty” to the Syrian people.
A major issue is whether several border crossings that remain closed will reopen and whether the current border crossing will remain open. In a press briefing, the ambassador said if the current border closes, “people will die.” She said her goal is to do her utmost in working with her colleagues at the Security Council to make sure the border stays open. Thomas-Greenfield added that the U.S. is pushing for the reopening of two borders that were closed last year and said she was told by the UN that having only one border open has put “tremendous pressure” on efforts to get humanitarian assistance over the border and that a second border must be opened.
The ambassador said she hopes contingency plans won’t be necessary in the event that a second border isn’t opened. She added that some supplies are being stockpiled across the border but that those aren’t expected to last past September. NGOs will make efforts to bring in food she said, but she added that they “can’t match the logistical capacity that the UN brings to the table.” Thomas-Greenfield is also concerned about the international community and other organizations’ ability to monitor events across the border and the possibility of illicit activity back and forth across the border. The U.S. is seeking reauthorization of UN access at the Bab al-Hawa border crossing as well as other border openings from Security Council members before the current UN Security Council mandate for humanitarian aid deliveries expires on July 10. While there is strong support within the Security Council for opening new border crossings, Russia was previously opposed and responsible for other border closings.
Meanwhile, Thomas-Greenfield said that while in Turkey, she met with a number of individuals from NGOs and was impressed with the U.S. embassy staff in Turkey as well. She praised the Turkish government for its willingness to shoulder the tremendous influx of Syrian refugees over the years and their integration into society. In referring to the U.S. relationship with Turkey, the ambassador said the relationship is a “nuanced, strategic relationship with our NATO ally,” adding that she sees amazing opportunities for the U.S. and Turkey to collaborate in the future on various issues. She said though both countries do not fully agree in all areas – on humanitarian cross-border access into Syria they both agree their values are aligned. Thomas-Greenfield added: “I have seen firsthand how Turkey is generously receiving refugees and working to integrate them effectively into the economy and the country.”